It is constantly drummed into us by modern western society that life is a competition, jobs are tournaments, nice guys come last, it’s a dog eat dog world, the early bird gets the worm and success comes from going the extra mile, the extra effort the final push, doing just that smidgen more than the other guy. Life is a race, with winners and losers and who wants to be a loser.
We worship at the altar of winners. Our greatest role models are sports stars.
Not all cultures see the world in this way. This is the language of Jackal. Marshall Rosenburg of the Centre for Non-Violent Communication, and one of my all round favourite people in the world, tries to teach Giraffe.
We all speak fluent Jackal. It goes a bit like this :
“Who left that dirty cup in the sink? Was it you?”.
“No, it wasn’t me, but you always yell at me when things go wrong.”
“That’s because you never clean up this house you lazy lump.”
“Call me lazy? At least I go to work instead of sitting around on my arse all day.”
“Well you can cook and clean up after yourself from now on.”
“Fine, if that’s the way you want to go maybe we can arrange a divorce”.
The same conversation in Giraffe goes more like this:
“I’m feeling tired now and someone just put their cup in the sink instead of the dishwasher. When that happens it makes me feel that all I am is a skivvy and that makes me feel devalued as a person.”
“Yes, it is so inconsiderate when people treat others like this. Let me look after it. You cooked and served the dinner, you deserve a rest”
Western society foists jackal upon us. Jackal is quick, witty, sometimes funny. Giraffe is slower, takes more thought, more time and lots more consideration.
There is an entire entertainment industry focused on turning co-operative pursuits into destructive competitions. Big Brother, the Apprentice, Survivor. You don’t “survive” by beating your fellow survivors!
Don’t believe that life is a competition. This is a myth. There don’t need to be winners and losers. We can all be winners. We can all be fulfilled and self-actualized. Ask instead who is perpetuating the myth, and why?
Sometimes the competitive impetus becomes truly bizarre and when you begin to watch for it actively it is a fun form of people watching. Here are some great examples from areas where no competition should ever rear its ugly head:
The book club: I read more books than you. – Yes, true, but I read better books than you do.
New mothers: My Daniel was walking at 11 months and toilet trained by 20 months. I see your Luke is not trained yet…how old is he now? Two years?
Yoga class: That new girl thinks she is so cool with her three minute headstand. Her downward dog looks like a sack of spuds, she has terrible technique.
Diet: I have eliminated all carbs from my diet and I feel so much better for it. If you tried it you might be less….bloated!
Drinking: Come on you wimp, you are still on your first pint and we are three beers in. Drink up and be a man!
Eric Berne in his seminal Transactional Analysis text “Games People Play” called this the Martini game or “I have a better way”. When he wrote the book the skill of a host was symbolised by the ability to mix “The perfect martini”. In a social context player A describes their perfect approach to an issue. Player B steps in and tells of “a better way”. In transactional analysis terms player B wins the “game”.